Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is your family background — geography, culture, language, religion/irreligion, and education?
David McGinness: Good Morning, Scott: For the most part, I was raised Catholic because of my mother. My sister and I would attend Sunday school, the family would go to church once a week, we would pray before dinner and occasionally before bed. After my mom passed away, when I was 9-years old, we gradually stopped going to church. Christmas and Easter celebrations were still celebrated, but more so for the fun and family gathering aspects of these holidays (arguably, these aren’t even Catholic traditions anyway). After my family struggled to get over my mom’s passing, my dad made the decision to move us to California to be closer to her our aunt, who became a mother figure to my sister and me. It wasn’t until I grew up in California that my religious identity became important to me, so I dedicated time to research the topic.
In terms of the geographical locations where we lived, we moved around a lot due to the demands of my father’s job. My sister was born in Washington D.C., three years later I was born in Ecuador, three years after that, we moved back to Virginia. We lived in Colombia for approximately fours years, back to Virginia and finally California, where I have lived for over 10 years, and is where I consider home to be.
My father is dominantly of Irish decent and my mother is Guatemalan. We grew up mostly within what I would call the American culture, although since I have experienced different states within the USA, and lived in Latin American, as well as I was partially raised by my Latino family, I believe I am multicultural.
We are English speakers, dad has a Southern accent that my sister and I never adopted. We are semi-decent Spanish speakers as well.
My sister and I went to public schools growing up. My sister graduated in UCSD with a Bachelor Degree in Biology, and I am still working at CSUSM to earn my degree Criminology and Justice studies, as well as going through an Air Force ROTC program at SDSU.
My religious identity, of course, is a non-believer, non-religious, and have chosen to be completely void of it. I am technically a member of state-recognized religion known as the Temple of the Jedi Order, hopefully I don’t need to explain why this doesn’t fall into the same category as the leading religions of today. If someone wished for a full and official title I would say that I am an Antitheist-Agnostic-Atheist.
I probably should break that down a bit; atheist is the title I prefer to go by, but due to a very common misconception/stigma, I find myself usually forced to be more specific. So here it goes: I am not someone that says that I can disprove the existence of god (personally don’t know of any well known atheists that say they can do this), I simply believe that the lack of evidence that there is a God, presented by the religious, isn’t convincing enough for me to buy into. In this way, I am agnostic; I can’t prove God’s non-existence but I don’t think there is anyone that can do so either. My answer is I don’t know and I live my life as if there wasn’t one, thus the “agnostic atheist” portion.
Antitheist, simply enough, means that if hypothetically the theistic doctrine were true, I would wish it was not. In nearly all the leading religions followed today, I find the doctrines/scriptures/texts of the holy books to be not only immoral and disturbing but evil in nature.
And yes, Christopher Hitchens is an indirect mentor to many of my beliefs on religion and faith, may his memory live long.
Jacobsen: What is the personal background in secularism for you? What were some seminal developmental events and realizations in personal life regarding it?
McGinness: Secularism to me is someone that supports the separation of Church and State, I’m pretty sure this is the dictionary definition for it, but it’s as simple as that. I suppose my background in secularism can be summed up by indirectly benefiting from it as a United States citizen, thanks to our longest living, ever-reforming, Constitution. If a citizen gets pulled over by an Officer of the Law, their religion, or lack of it, will not be a question that will would induce arrest, conviction or punishment. If applying for a job or college, religious background won’t determine whether a citizen gets accepted or not. Under no circumstance will (or should) anyone be forced to religious teachings or scrutiny that is backed by governmental support, a concept that is not yet universally accepted, which I think is unfortunate to say the least.
Reading, education, studying the constitution and watching religious debates were what brought me to this understanding: that it is only through Secular government, that a nation can achieve religious freedom. It is through Secularism that we have the greatest rights we earn as Americans and why the nation has prospered.
Jacobsen: You are the president of the SSA at California State University — San Marcos. What tasks and responsibilities come with the position? Why do you pursue this line of volunteering?
McGinness: To be honest, I am very new to the club and it is the first one I had ever joined. The club was pretty much inactive and was one day from being unrecognized by our national organization. Attempting to help, I made a quick and desperate attempt to fill in all the information needed to register (much of which I did not have), and presenting it less than an hour before it was due. Afterwards, I began receiving emails from both from the national organization and representatives from my campus, that insinuated that I was the leading officer of the club. By default, I became the new President of Secular Society Alliance at SSA and have accepted the challenge of getting us started from scratch.
My main goal is to successfully reboot the club and build awareness on campus regarding the club and secularism. I would like to create an environment for likeminded students to gather, discuss their ideals, and create long-lasting friendships. Currently, I am in the process of creating a weekly schedule that includes a weekly event, besides our weekly meeting.
So far, we are doing very well. I have gotten 13 members of my fraternity to join already, have gotten boxes full of SSA merchandise and two posters for free from a request to the national organization, nearly completed the requirements of the university to be recognized and have found a new proactive campus staff member to be the advisor for the club.
Jacobsen: What personal fulfillment comes from it?
McGinness: I suppose leading an organization that strongly stands behind the most important principle of the constitution, that I have taken an Oath to support and defend as an American Airman, is an honor. I truly love this country and the freedoms it has provided my family, friends and myself. Meeting others that feel the same way is something I am looking forward to, as well as learning new perspectives on secularism, atheism, agnosticism, free-thinking, free-inquiry and patriotism. (Scholarship opportunities would be nice as well).
Jacobsen: What are some of the more valuable tips for campus secularist activism?
McGinness: I don’t have the experience, yet, to share some tips. However, the former president gave me the following advice: connect with other clubs that have similar interests, reach out to religious organizations occasionally for respectful discussions, keep activities simple with a clear purpose, try to have fun and most importantly keep your cool when confronted with opposition.
Jacobsen: What have been some historic violations of the principles behind secularism on campus? What have been some successes to combat these violations?
McGinness: I don’t know of any violations due to lack of secularism on my campus. We have a lot of on-campus religious demonstrations that are sponsored from religious organizations, but they are legally manifesting their freedom of speech. My club would have to investigate my university’s history to answer this question properly.
Jacobsen: What are the main areas of need regarding secularists on campus?
McGinness: To combat religious attempts to violate our first amendment and other constitutional rights. In recent years, attempts have been to violate the Anti-Establishment Clause. For example, teaching creationism/intelligent design in public schools, Religious Freedom Restoration Act and establishing a National Day of Prayer. Religious freedom is an outcome of secularism, borne from Thomas Jefferson’s metaphorical wall that separates church and the state. I believe, as a secularist, it should be us that continues to support this wall.
Jacobsen: What is your main concern for secularism on campus moving forward for the next few months, even years?
McGinness: Besides keeping the club that represents secularism running for years to come, making sure that future members feel safe, make sure to let members know they can count on our support of their ideology is being questioned. Maintaining club confidentiality is something I will eventually have to address and plan for soon.
Jacobsen: What are the current biggest threats to secularism on campus?
McGinness: Sorry to say again, I am honestly not too sure. However, since most statistics show that many Americans don’t trust atheists, I believe I will have to build the trust and respect of fellow students.
Jacobsen: What are perennial threats to secularism on campus?
McGinness: I would say political attempts to fight secularism (breaking down the wall), and religious ridicule/public shaming as to discourage secularism — leading to the silencing of secular voices.
Jacobsen: What are the main social and political activist, and educational, initiatives on campus for secularists?
McGinness: Suggestions are endless, if needed I would recommend researching the teachings from the following people:
· Socrates (Founder of Western Philosophy)
· Marcus Aurelius (Founder of Stoicism)
· George Holyoake (Founder of Secularism)
· Charles Darwin (Biological Emancipator, Founder of Evolution)
· Thomas Huxley (Founder of Agnosticism, nickname: Darwin’s Bulldog)
· Thomas Jefferson (President/Founding Father, Jefferson’s Wall)
· James Madison (President/Founding Father, “Detached Memoranda”)
· Carl Sagan (Cosmologist, TV Show “The Cosmos”)
· Neil DeGrasse Tyson (Astrophysicist, Reboot of “The Cosmos)
· Bill Maher (Host of Politically Incorrect and Documentary; Religulous)
· Christopher Hitchens (Columnist/Author, book: “God is not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything),
· Richard Dawkins (Oxford Professor in Biology, book: “God Delusion.”)
Jacobsen: What are the main events and topics of group discussions for the alliance on campus?
McGinness: I would be proud of my organization if we managed to get a secular political activist to come to campus to speak on our behalf or on major secular issues that face our nation or the world.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved and maintain the secular student alliance ties on campus?
McGinness: Joining the club would be the first step. From there, learning to be open about secularism, understanding its importance and being prepared to teach others about it. Also, important is having a positive attitude while being active in the club and welcoming disagreement.
Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
McGinness: Thank you for this opportunity and questions. Glad you reached out.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, David.
Original Publication in Humanist Voices.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.